What is borrelen? The Dutch art of going for a drink with co-workers

What is borrelen? Ultimately it’s the concept of work hard, play hard. This perfectly describes the work ethics of professionals in the Netherlands.

People are dedicated. They work hard. But then finally Friday afternoon rolls around and everyone is starting to relax.

When is borrelen — and what is it?

It’s time for a well-deserved borrel with your colleagues. Time to let your hair down, open up that uppermost button of your shirt and socialise.

But how could you describe borrelen to a non-Dutchie? It’s more than an after-work-drink. It’s almost like a gathering of professionals collectively winding down after a long workweek with a drink.

This is what Wikipedia defines as borrelen:

  • an informal designation for a small glass of spirits
  • an informal social gathering of a select (invited) group, often with a theme

Typically, you’ll order a biertje or a glass of wine and have some snacks (borrelhapjes) with it, like bitterballen — the famous deep-fried meatballs, kaasstengels — deep-fried cheese sticks, or borrelnootjes, which are, you guessed it, deep-fried nuts. I see a pattern here.

borrelhapjes - borrelen
Bitterballen can’t be missing when you’re borreling. Image: mailhanneke/Pexels

While some might be sceptical about the offer of mainly oily, fatty snacks to accompany their drink, I’ll say the Dutch are on to something here. It’s pretty smart. Before you start digging out your AH pre-washed and neatly cut baby carrots, let me say this: You want something substantial to snack on during a borrel. Sticks of raw veggies are simply not cutting it.

Be smart — enjoy some borrelhapjes

Lunch is already digested (well, almost anyway). Your stomach feels empty and those beers/wines go down way to easily. Before you know it, you’ll feel a little tipsy and if you’re not careful, you’re lying under the table before the clock hits 20:00.

kermit - borrelen
You don’t want this to happen at your office borrel. Image: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

Since borrelen doesn’t mean getting totally out of control wasted as you’re still in an office-type-setting, do what the Dutch are doing, and enjoy some deep-fried snacks while drinking and socialising and you’ll keep your alcohol level under control without a problem.

The end of the work week calls for a celebration

I had my fair share of borrels or vrijmibos (short for vrjidag middag borrel aka Friday afternoon drink) during my time working in various offices in Amsterdam. And I have to say that I don’t miss a lot of things from my time pre-freelancing but borrelen is definitely one of them.

cheers - borrelen
Nothing beats a well-deserved drink or two with colleagues after a long work week. Image: Yutacar/Unsplash

Sharing a well-deserved drink or two (or three..) with your colleagues at the end of a long week is a highly enjoyable bonding experience and it gives you a clean cut between the end of work and the start of the weekend.

So, next time your Dutch colleague invites you to a borrel, you know exactly what he or she is talking about and you can enthusiastically answer: Gezellig! Let’s go!

Have experienced the art of borrelen? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: DutchReview/Supplied.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2018, and was fully updated in September 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Alexandra Huetter
Alexandra Huetter is a native Austrian with a passion for traveling. Having worked in tourism, marketing and sales she finally decided to exchange her 9-to-5 job for the unpredictable yet rewarding world of freelancing. She has been working as a freelance copywriter in Amsterdam since 2011.

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    Wish we had this to read several years ago when we Honeymooned in Amsterdam.
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